Candidacy Exam Info

This information is applicable to the regular Physics PhD program. For the Physics – Planetary Sciences Track program information please click here.


Admission to Candidacy Status – Are you ready to enroll in dissertation hours?

In order for a student to obtain candidacy status, the student must:

  • Submit a Plan of Study
  • Pass both written and oral parts of the candidacy exam
  • Form the dissertation advisory committee consisting of a chair, approved graduate faculty and graduate faculty scholars
  • Complete the required CITI & RCR workshops
  • Completion of 51 credit hours to include all required core courses, formal course work and at least 21 credit hours of remaining electives.  (Dissertation hours are not included)
  • Submit all required forms to the Graduate Program Assistant for processing


The Candidacy/Qualifying Exam consists of two independent parts, written and oral, each worth 100 pts.   A passing score on each is considered to be 50/100.

The written part is administered in two days and consists of the following subjects: Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics I and II, Electrodynamics I and II and Statistical Mechanics.  There are 4 questions per subject for a total of 24 questions divided into 12 for each day of the exam.  Each question and subject carries the same weight. Students will have 4 hours to answer the questions on each day of the exam, which is an average of 20 minutes per question. No books or notes can be consulted, but a compendium of mathematical formulas, integrals, etc. may be used after inspection by the proctor. Pocket calculators are allowed.

The written exam is intended to test students’ knowledge at the undergraduate level. Problems are solicited from the entire faculty and range in difficulty from lower division undergraduate to first year graduate level.  The purpose of the core classes is to prepare students for research, not primarily as preparation for the candidacy exam.  Consequently, students are advised to prepare for the candidacy exam by studying standard upper division undergraduate texts, especially in solving problems from those texts. Those for all the subjects except statistical mechanics tend to cover the same material, so that any text will do.  Undergraduate texts for thermal physics vary widely on the relative emphasis given to classical thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.  The UCF candidacy exam has tended to emphasize the latter subject, although not exclusively.  Old exams are available in the department office and may be studied.  However, effort is made to insure that specific problems from old exams never reappear in later exams.

History has shown that the scores on the written exam are strongly correlated with performance in the core subject classes. To dilute the negative effect of possible outliers (e.g. the unlikely coincidence of a 4.0 GPA and failure on the written exam) the 100 points are awarded as follows.  The actual two-day problem solving part of the exam is worth 80 of the 100 points.  The remaining 20 points are determined by the grades in the 6 core subjects, according to 20*S(grade-3)/6.  Thus, with an A in every core course, a student will receive 20 points going into the exam.  With only B’s, no points are awarded.  While the number of C grades a student can earn before being dismissed from the program is limited, it is possible (e.g. with a record of 4 B’s and 2 C’s) to receive a negative score of up to -6.7 for this part.

The oral part of the exam is combined with the dissertation proposal (see candidacy information in the graduate catalog), which must be defended within one year after passing the written exam (qualifier).  The doctoral dissertation committee consists of 4 professors (see candidacy information in the graduate catalog).  During and after the presentation, the committee may ask any questions on any subjects.  Afterward, they decide amongst themselves whether to award a passing grade and what points to assign.

Students are required to take the written exam (qualifier) at the end of their second semester after completing the core courses. Students are required to take the oral part of the exam (combined with the dissertation proposal) by the end of their fifth semester after passing the written exam.  Students have two opportunities to pass both the written and oral exams.